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Monday 26 June 2017

Offaly wait as Mac keeps eye on the Rhode

Rhode star Niall McNamee
Rhode star Niall McNamee

Niall McNamee admits it will be a big personal wrench when the time comes to walk away from the Offaly dressing-room that has been his home for the past 14 seasons.

The 31-year-old sharpshooter isn't rushing any decision on his Faithful future, with all his current football energies devoted to Rhode's latest quest for that elusive AIB Leinster club SFC title.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's Portlaoise decider against St Vincent's, McNamee said of his Offaly plans: "I met Pat (Flanagan) a couple of months ago, we had a great chat. We've a match obviously this weekend and then I'm away on holidays for a couple of weeks after that. We'll have a think about it after that.

"This year was my 14th year. It's hard to get away from it too. Sometimes you'd say to yourself, 'I'd love to go away and do different things' - but at the same I know I'd miss it if I was away as well.

"I'm 31 and I'd say there's only a couple of years in me. But I'll wait and see how Sunday goes and see then from January on what the plan is."

McNamee said it "seems only like yesterday" since he was parachuted in for his senior championship debut, aged 17, in the midst of preparing for his Leaving Cert in 2003.

He had played for the Offaly minors against Louth and was duly told to go training with Paul O'Kelly's senior squad the following morning.

He trained that Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday; he wasn't named in the team but then, barely an hour-and-a-half before throw-in for their Leinster quarter-final against Laois in Portlaoise, he was told he was starting. "It was the best thing that ever happened ... because I had no time to think about it," he recalled.

The match finished level and the replay was fixed for eight days later in Tullamore.

"It was a Bank Holiday Monday. I started the Leaving Cert on the Wednesday after the replay. I remember there was a study week the week before and all the teachers were saying 'Jeez, don't play the replay, you might​ break you hand.'

"I was like, 'Ah yeah, no problem.' Anyway, we went for a few pints - I was 17 and shouldn't - on the Monday night and I was dying all day Tuesday, trying to study for my English exam. I think I got a B3 in English anyway so I didn't do too bad! But looking back on it, that was brilliant."

Yet that replay finished in defeat, a recurring big-match theme. He has lost six Leinster finals: the 2001 minor decider and 2006 senior equivalent, both against Dublin, and four for Rhode, against Moorefield ('06), Kilmacud ('08 and '10) and Vincent's ('14). Yet, while desperate for that belated breakthrough, McNamee can still see the positives.

"It's great that we've been able to push ourselves to get to that level. It proves that we are one of the best teams in the country," he declared.

"It's a brilliant time to be associated with the club. Everyone's rowing in behind it ... to win one would be the icing on the cake but we're under no illusions."

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